CITY OF GREENWOOD V. PEACOCK, 384 U. S. 808 (1966)

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U.S. Supreme Court

City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808 (1966)

City of Greenwood v. Peacock

No. 471

Argued April 26, 1966

Decided June 20, 1966*

384 U.S. 808


Various state criminal charges were brought against the individual petitioners, members of groups engaging in civil rights activities in Mississippi in 1964, and they filed petitions to remove their cases to the Federal District Court alleging under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(1) that they were denied or could not enforce in the state courts rights under laws providing for the equal civil rights of citizens, and under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(2) that they were being prosecuted for acts done under color of the authority of the Constitution and laws of the United States. The § 1443(1) removal claims were fundamentally based on allegations (1) that the individual petitioners were arrested because they were Negroes or were helping Negroes assert their rights and that they were innocent of the charges against them, or (2) that they would be unable to obtain fair state trials. The § 1443(2) removal claims were based on the contention that the various federal constitutional and statutory provisions (including 42 U.S.C. § § 1971 and 1981) invoked in the removal petitions conferred "color of authority" on the individual petitioners to commit the acts for which they are being prosecuted. The District Court, on motion, remanded the cases to the city police court for trial. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a valid removal claim under § 1443(1) had been stated by allegations that a state statute had been applied before trial so as to deprive an accused of his equal civil rights where the arrest and charge thereunder were effected for reasons of racial discrimination, and remanded the cases to the District Court for a hearing on the truth of the allegations. The court rejected the § 1443(2) contentions, holding that provision available only to those who have acted in an official or quasi-official capacity under federal law.


1. The individual petitioners had no removal right under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(2), since, as the legislative history of that provision makes clear, that provision applies only in the case of federal

Page 384 U. S. 809

officers and persons assisting such officers in performing their duties under a federal law providing for equal civil rights. Pp. 384 U. S. 814-824.

2. Section 1443(1) permits removal only in the rare situation where it can be clearly predicted by reason of the operation of a pervasive and explicit law that federal rights will inevitably be denied by the very act of bringing the defendant to trial in the state court. Such not being the case here, the individual petitioners are not entitled to removal under § 1443(1). Pp. 384 U. S. 824-828.

(a) Some of the rights invoked by the removal petitions, such as those of free expression under the First Amendment, clearly cannot meet the statutory definition of "equal civil rights." P. 384 U. S. 825.

(b) Neither the two federal laws specifically referred to in the removal petitions (42 U.S.C. § § 1971, 1981), nor any others confer an absolute right on private citizens to commit the acts involved in the charges against the individual petitioners or grant immunity from state prosecution on such charges. Georgia v. Rachel, ante, p. 384 U. S. 780, distinguished. Pp. 384 U. S. 826-827.

(c) Removal under § 1443(1) cannot be supported merely by showing that there has been an illegal denial of civil rights by state officials in advance of trial, that the charges against the defendant are false, or that the defendant cannot obtain a fair trial in a particular state court. Pp. 384 U. S. 827-828.

3. Section 1443(1) does not work a wholesale dislocation of the historic relationship between the state and federal courts in the administration of the criminal law, as the line of decisions from Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303, to Kentucky v. Powers, 201 U. S. 1, makes clear. If changes are to be made in the long-settled interpretation of § 1443(1), it is for Congress, not this Court, to make them. Pp. 384 U. S. 832-835.

347 F.2d 679, 986, reversed.

Page 384 U. S. 810

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